I’d been telling myself and others that my trip ‘really’ begins post-Cleveland, once I have the safety-net comfort of a family visit behind me. My brother-in-law, Larry, however, has promised me a bailout ticket up to the Mississippi River, just as he did in 2009. If something happens to me before I cross the that boundary, he will drive out and pick me up. “Beyond that,” Larry said, “You’re on your own!” But I know my brother-in-law. He’d probably come and get me, if some illness or injury struck, even further out. I’d hazard to say maybe even the Missouri River. It’s not merely that he’s generous; he loves to drive through rural America. While Larry’s offer is a good one, I of course had no plans for any trip-ending misery to befall me. At this point, I’m still several hundred miles from the milestone of the Mississippi anyway, so let the trip rip! Let the bike hike! Let the journey…um… not end with me on a gurney!

My Clevelander family went off to work and school while I puttered around a bit longer. The planned mileage for the day wasn’t a long one (70ish). I had mapped out the next few days, based in part on a warmshowers.org host named Frances in Indiana whom I’d contacted and was open to me crashing in her barn.

A few words about the route for the next phase of the journey. (Phase I [done] = Suburban DC to Suburban Cleveland. Phase II [what we’re up to now] = Lake Erie to the Mississippi.) For my 2009 journey, except for a quick jog south to Richmond, Virginia three days into the trip to visit my sister-in-law’s new baby and to see my partner Donny who was visiting his family, I kept entirely to Adventure Cycling Association maps. These are cartographic masterpieces for touring cyclists. The ACA has mapped out almost 50,000 miles of bicycle touring throughout the US (and bit in Canada) that provide turn-by-turn directions, elevation profiles, information about food, lodging and other services, riding conditions, climate, the works. Oh, and they’re waterproof! (Check ‘em out here.) For my previous trip I adhered to the ACA’s first-ever and most oft-traveled route, the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, for the first 2,000 or so miles. The TransAmerica begins at Yorktown, Virginia on the coast, but I picked it up near Richmond and carried on through Virginia, Kentucky, the southern tip of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and eastern Colorado to Pueblo, and then switched to the Western Express from Pueblo over the Rockies, through Utah and Nevada, and back down to sea level in San Francisco, and finally to the Pacific Coast Route down to LA. This time out, when I get to the Missouri River on the western border of Iowa, I’ll be using the ACA’s Lewis and Clark Trail maps, but now from Lake Erie to the Mississippi it’ll be a section of their Northern Tier route from the lake’s Cleveland shoreline through the farmlands of northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, crossing Big River to Muscatine, Iowa. The physical map is visible to me through a plastic flap velcroed to my handlebars; simultaneously the Adventure Cycling app is running on my iPhone (mounted snugly on the handlebars as well), which helps to keep me (an easily distractible blue dot) on the route (a pink line). This combined method is definitely more failsafe. (P.S. The app wasn’t available 9 years ago. Back then, my iPhone was to keep in touch with people, not digitize the journey. Back in the aughts, son, we did pure analog, we did!)

On Day 10, I was grateful for cooler temps, though raindrops began to patter my helmet as I set out toward downtown Cleveland and the anticipated flatness of the Lake Erie shoreline. No stopping! I ignored the drops, until they quickened to a rain’s pace. Ok, fine. I flew down the hill into University Heights, stopped, pulled out my rain jacket, and took off again. As is often the case, this action may or may not have caused the rain to cease, because it stopped almost immediately. I kept the jacket on and kept on. The route gave me a ride-by tour of some CLE landmarks and provided plenty of bike paths alongside MLK Jr. Blvd. Rockefeller Park with its Cultural Gardens celebrating all the ethnicities/nationalities that contributed to Cleveland’s development is particularly remarkable. And organized! A couple miles further I was at Lake Erie, impressive in its expanse and placidness.

Hmm, Great Lakes. I’m definitely under-educated about these…I once had a boyfriend from Buffalo and visited him there. I said I was moving to California. He said, “Move to Buffalo.” I said, “Are you out of your mind?” The relationship dissolved. You can’t extend a summer romance beyond the summer if that person lives in Buffalo. Am I right, or am I right? That was my one other Great Lakes experience. Oh, except I must’ve seen Lake Michigan that time I was in Chicago, but I was running the marathon, so I may have missed it…? Or I don’t remember. I remember that the Sears Tower (or whatever they call it these days) was closed to visitors that day.

ANYWAY, very shallow rabbit hole. Pedaling on…

I rode along the bike path for a few miles and passed two cyclists who were stopped. A couple minutes later, the older of the two, Mark, caught up and hailed me. “Where you headed?”

Both Mark and his son, Sam, were on regular road bikes with no baggage, so I assumed they were interested locals “Portland,” I said, wanting to make this a quickie.

“Hah, we started in Boston and are riding home to LA.”

Whaaaaaa?

So, Mark is originally from Los Angeles and lives in Thousand Oaks with his wife, Ellyn, a therapist and graduate-level psychology teacher, and his son, Sam, a standup comic. Mark, who’s now his 60s and retired from the music business, at age 21, had a wakeup call of sorts when he finally sought help for a hearing problem he’d had his whole life but was more or less in denial about. He received his first hearing aids with help from an organization in Pasadena called HEAR Center, and his world opened up. Mark’s ride is to raise funds for HEAR Center and to promote awareness for the need for affordable and comprehensive services for hearing-impaired people. As he’s been traveling, he’s been doing bits of radio and motivational speaking engagements around this particular issue – and has been humbly reaping the benefits as well (e.g., free tickets to a Cubs game!). To check out more about his ride, his cause, and how to donate, follow him on Facebook/Instagram @markscyclesoflife.

Mark and Sam are riding bikes, supported by Ellyn in their blue Prius that’s stuffed to the gills with all their gear. Each night at the end of their intended ride, Ellyn picks the guys up and they check into a hotel. That’s a lower-stress way to do this, am I right? Lucky bastards.

The three of us ride together out of Cleveland with me guiding, exploiting my urban-cycling skills to navigate through downtown, passing the stadium where the Indians play and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We are going the same direction (obviously) and have similar goals of where to stop for the night, so why not ride together for a while? I err a couple of times, because I am alternately chatting with Sam, then Mark, but eventually CLE is in the rearview and we are pedaling to other Lake Erie pastures.

The route follows Lake Avenue which becomes Route 6 through the tony communities of Franklin, Lakewood, Rocky River, Bay Village. Do I want to meet Ellyn for lunch in the town of Lorain? “Yes, let’s do it.” I am having a ball with these guys. Sam is also in recovery, and I’m comforted to have that particular connection with someone for the first time during the trip. It’s a shared language, and I can be unguarded about this crucial part of my identity and my spiritual journey (!) (BTW, Sam says “I don’t give a fuck” when I ask him if I can mention his being sober in my blog; like most comics who’ve been through the ringer of addiction, he’s all about it.)

We meet Ellyn, eat, and Sam begs off riding the rest of the way to Milan, another 35-ish miles away. Mark and I ride in silence most of the way, mostly because he’s several yards ahead of me. I don’t want to talk anyway. My knees have been sore, something which I’ve been in denial about, as has my butt. (Have I mentioned yet that I got a sharp brand-new Brooks leather saddle a few months ago? Yeah, well anyway, they’re supposed to be the most comfortable bicycle seats ever… once you break them in…which is NEVER. There doesn’t seem to be a precise number of miles to clock before the seat transforms out of its fucking hard-as-cement caterpillar to cushy-comfy butterfly stage. Bad metaphor, I know, but you try thinking of a good one while debating whether to throw your bicycle into a Great Lake because your ass is in agony. Whitey’s previous saddle was a Selle Anatomica, also leather. It broke in really fast but then collapsed after about 5,000 miles. Okay, enough about my ass…)

Route 6 starts to get hillier after Lorain, rolling up and down as we head near Sandusky (where my friend and downstairs neighbor Don Hug is from and is also home to Cedar Point, an amusement park destination for millions, apparently). And there is a headwind. I’m grumbling to myself at Mark who’s now a football field ahead on his sleek unburdened road bike.

At the junction where we turn off Route 6 and south, away from the lake, Ellyn and Sam are there basking in the AC ready to collect Mark and head to their hotel. I ride 5 more miles to a campsite in Milan. …Or, should I investigate the Super 8 right next door? The proprietor of the Milan Travel-Park says, “See you in a minute,” implying that Super 8 prices in Milan are above my pay grade. Whatever, dude, I’m from LA!

IMG_7162I return in less than a minute. Apparently due to their proximity to the aforementioned Cedar Point Amusement Park, a room at Super 8 in Milan goes for $189+tax. However, the lovely Guest Associate Support Team Member offered it to li’l ol’ me at $179+tax. Uh, no thanks. A campsite for $28 it is! That’s a steep price for what it is – an RV parking lot next to the train tracks – but the shower is amazing. Also, after posting “Tutto è fantastico a Milano!” on Instagram, I overhear Denise on the phone in the Milan Travel-Park office. It’s pronounced My-lan. Glad I knew this before chatting up the locals. Don’t want to seem too aligned with a European sensibility. I’ve already been prepped by my brother-in-law about Pierre, South Dakota. It’s ‘Peer’, not Pierre, you fancy-pants French fry! Of course.

Mark and I meet at 8:30am the next morning to make another go of traveling together. Sam sleeps in. He will ride with us later after buying a second pair of cycling shorts at a shop in nearby Fremont. Mark has been saving his ass from soreness by wearing two at once. Hmm. Must try tomorrow. We ride 40 miles along the flat Ohio farmland grid that includes 12 miles of bike trail. It’s no-fuss riding. Not much wind. No climbs. Barely any cars.

And we basically share our life stories for three hours. We stop in Gibsonburg to eat lunch (my first of many Subway experiences on this trip). Sam and Ellyn meet us, and me and the Goldstein men ride our last 20 miles to Bowling Green, Ohio, their day’s final destination and the site of our parting. They are heading toward Chicago in the morning (those Cubs seats I mentioned await them), and I am continuing to Napoleon, another 30 miles. We exchanged info and have stayed in touch since. This connection couldn’t have been predicted, but stuff like this only happens when you say “Yes, let’s do it.” As cliché as YES YES YES more apple butter, please! has already become in these posts, that’s the crux. For sure.

I’m so ready for the riding to end when I cross the Maumee River into Napoleon, Ohio. My first 90-plus day of the journey. Ugh, then I realize that the cheapo Knights Inn is 2 more miles off-route, and uphill (duh of course, away from a river) on a major road. But you can’t beat cheapo, especially when it’s the only game in town.

The room is clammy and shadowy, almost sinister, is supposedly nonsmoking (but evidently hasn’t always been), and the patterned spread on the king-sized bed vaunts its oily stains. The air reeks of despair and demoralization. Nothing good has ever happened in this room. … Maybe I’m just hungry.

IMG_7180
Nothing good has ever happened here.

The food options out on the highway in Napoleon are grim: fast food only. I have my weekly call with Alex and he is pro-DQ. “I had a hamburger there recently, and it wasn’t bad.” On a good day, or any day, Alex and I do not share the same nourishment wavelength. I’ll check out DQ but won’t promise anything. We hang up, but not before he encourages me to commit to purchasing waterproofing spray from the huge Walmart staring me down from across the highway.

“Alright! I’ll do it! But I don’t understand why you have to spray some chemical on the seams of a waterproof tent to make it waterproof!”

“Trust me.” I purchase the huge bottle spray from Walmart that I then end up lugging around for another day until I use my tent again.

54967346653__7857F330-AEE5-405E-A7B5-8B3CC53640E5
Can this bottle be any more gigantic?

Back at my Knights Inn Room of Grave Sorrows and Sin, I peel the bedspread back with two fingers. The sheets seem clean. My friend Heather always says never to engage with the bedspread on a hotel room bed, no matter how clean it appears, because they don’t ever wash them.

“Yes, let’s do it” wins out again. Tent waterproofing spray that weighs a pound, evasion of soiled bedspread contact, and a two-day trek with a trio of Angelenos. I even add another “Yes” by hitting up Wendell Brane and his wife Terry on warmshowers for the next night – in Indiana! Wendell responds to my online email message quickly with a phone call. A phone call! Whenever my phone rings, I’m nearly always taken aback… Yes, I’ll see them tomorrow. Yes, I will be in touch about ETA. I knock out easy after 92 miles of riding.

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Ellyn, Mark, Sam

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